Comparing Iraq in 2003 and Germany in 1945

introductory reading for Prof. Marcuse's 2004 "Germany after 1945" course--course homepage
This discussion thread from H-German includes 2 responses: response 1, response 2

source: [use the keyword search at lower left to locate the original submissions]

From: Dan Rogers []
Subject: Misuse of the American Occupation of Germany
Date: Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Historians of Germany may be interested in the continuing misuse for current political purposes of the American occupation experience in Germany after World War II.

On the ABC News program "This Week" on Sunday, November 2, there was the following exchange between U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and columnist George Will:

George Will: You've stressed that in Iraq we've made much faster progress than we made in post-war Germany in establishing police, army, currency, central bank. That's all true. One difference is that in 1945, in May, when Hitler died, fascism died. It was no longer a fighting faith. If Saddam dies, there will still be the fighting faith of militant Islam. So might it make zero difference at all?
Donald Rumsfeld: Oh, I wouldn't say a zero difference. First of all, the Nazi faith did linger. And there were people in Germany who kept trying to kill the allies, as we were called then, as opposed to the coalition.
Will: Did they have casualties -- inflict casualties comparable to this?
Rumsfeld: Not comparable, but there were casualties, to be sure. There were mayors who were cooperating with the allies that were killed. There were Nazis who escaped and went to South America and other countries. It took years to track them down. Hitler, fortunately, killed himself.
[end of quotation -- source:]

The logic of Rumsfeld's analysis is as unmistakable as his history is bad: Germany was a success despite fierce diehard resistance; therefore Iraq will be an American victory too. The problem is, there was no German resistance after surrender.

The flaws in Rumsfeld's and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's analogy to occupied Germany were pointed out by Daniel Benjamin in _Slate_ as far back as August 29, 2003 (see "Condi's Phony History,", in which Benjamin points out, among other things, that there were no post-surrender American combat casualties in Germany or Japan). There was indeed a famous murder of a cooperating mayor (in Aachen), but it occurred many weeks before the German surrender. And if anyone can think of a serious problem posed by Nazis in South America other than the trouble it took to locate, capture, and extradite them, I'd like to hear about it.

The other difficulty with the Rumsfeld and Rice analogy is that the German government, military, and people recognized and accepted defeat. Thus the war was over: one side quit. The war in Iraq is not over, and will not be over, until one side quits.

The U.S. may yet prevail and Iraq may turn out to be no Vietnam. But it is certainly no Germany.

Dan Rogers University of South Alabama

[two of the responses follow; two additional responses on H-German web page]

Date: Tuesday, November 04, 2003 (back to top)

1. From: Adams, Bianka J Dr CMH []

Dear Dr. Rogers, As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. While there was no strong resistance movement in Germany (Werewolves, Jagdverbaende, Bundschuh, Edelweiss Piraten, to mention just a small sampling of the creative names), there were post-combat casualties. According to the Statistical and Accounting Branch of the Office of the Adjutant General's Final Report from 1947, there were forty-two battle casualties from June through December 1945. Included in this number were thirty two (32) killed in action, eight (8) soldiers, who died of wounds and injuries they sustained in action, and two (2) that were missing in action and declared dead during the reporting period.(p. 32) The report does not list the nature of the action that killed these soldiers. Only a thorough search of unit journals and histories in the National Archives would answer that question. German resistance to the Allied occupation manifested itself mainly in harassment of occupation troops through telephone wire cuttings, stringing of "decapitation" wire across streets (that never decapitated anyone), intimidation of German women who "fraternized" with Allied soldiers, and similar actions. Most unit records I have examined did not attribute these acts to an organized resistance, but rather to juvenile delinquents or disgruntled German veterans. Still, the threat of a Nazi underground seemed real enough to the soldiers who were in Germany at that time. As one WWII veteran put it, "I kept my Mauser ready at all times." Overall, I agree with your assessment that post-war Germany is not a suitable analogy for the security threats in Iraq today. Other, more recent, experiences in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, as examined in a RAND study on U.S. involvement in nation building efforts (, might be provide better reference points for decision makers.

Sincerely, Bianka J. Adams

2. From: John Czaplicka [] (back to top)

Dan Rogers point about the misuse of history by Rumsfeld and Condi Rice is a point well-taken. One might elaborate on the pattern of distinction by noting that the quality of our intelligence and occupation in Germany was so much better due to the large numbers of personnel who could speak, read, and write the language and due to the many German and Austrian emigrants and refugees who took part in the occupation (often as information officers). One must recognize that the U.S. had many, many more men under arms at that time. Also the Weimar Republic and its democratic institutions were only about 12 years in the past when the allies occupied Germany. The politicians of post-war Germany were largely drawn from the pool of politicians who had been shunted aside or imprisoned at the end of the Weimar Republic (e.g. Adenauer, Schumacher). The old party system could be reestablished. Nothing comparable exist in Iraq today. Despite the bombing, the well-diversified German industry was fairly well intact in 1945. By the time the war ended the German engineers and professionals were well-trained in rebuilding and reconstructing infrastructure. German women were willing and encouraged to help rebuild, and their culture allowed this. It took longer for the Germans to recover from the war because of the destruction wrought by artillery and bombers during the war. Germany was also an ethnically and religiously homogenous land at the end of WWII, and there was no threat of a civil war. Iraq cannot be compared. Finally, sacrifice and not consumption to bolster the economy was part of the domestic political agenda in the U.S. Now we have tax cuts even while the costs of the war of occupation grows. One can only wonder at the false comparison between the two "post-war" periods. But, then again, that is very much part of the veil of half-truths and lies used to help placate a domestic constituency.

John Czaplicka Center for European Studies, Harvard

prepared for web by H. Marcuse, Jan. 4, 2003, formatting updated 12/26/05
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